In the summer of 1900, Johnny Nolan meets Katie Rommely. Hildy O’Dair, Katie’s best friend, invites Katie along when she and her boyfriend, Johnny, go dancing on Saturday night. Johnny arranges for a date for Katie and the four of them ride out to Canarsie on a trolley. However, Katie dislikes the vulgar boy who has been provided for her. Instead, she watches Johnny dance. She likes his long, slender feet and the shine on his shoes. She admires his “beautiful rhythm.” She overhears the girls at the next table describe what “a nifty dresser” he is. Although he is not her guy, Katie feels proud of him. Johnny gives Katie a courtesy dance. Feeling his arms around her and adjusting herself to his rhythm, Katie decides right away that she wants Johnny.
Smith paints Katie as the aggressor in her pursuit of Johnny, which upends traditional gender norms (particularly for this time) regarding courtship rituals. However, her willingness to betray her best friend in favor of a man is in keeping with the stereotype that women are frequently disloyal to one another. It seems that Katie likes Johnny, not just because he is handsome and debonair, but also because he gives her hope. His attention to his appearance is unusual among men of her station.
One day, Katie tells her forelady that she has menstrual cramps and cannot work. She gets out fifteen minutes before closing time to meet Johnny, who is waiting on the corner with his friends. Johnny sees Katie and waves at her. The other boys leave them to engage in a conversation that neither Johnny nor Katie can remember years later. What they remember best is that they realized they were in love.
Katie uses the most common “womanly” complaint to get out of work and meet Johnny before Hildy can reach him. Her actions are calculating, but she is no more guilty than Johnny, due to his equal desire to be with Katie.
When the factory whistle blows, the other girls stream out of the Castle Braid Factory, including Hildy. She smiles “possessively” when she sees Johnny, but the smile turns into a grimace of hate when she sees him with Katie. Hildy accuses Katie of stealing Johnny away and lunges at her with a hairpin. Johnny steps between them and gets the scratch down his cheek that was intended for Katie. Johnny explains that he can’t marry Hildy; he never knew what true love was until he met Katie. He expresses remorse for leading Hildy on. Hildy mourns both the loss of her boyfriend and her best friend and walks away “with her shoulders sagging.” Johnny runs after her and kisses her tenderly while saying farewell.
Hildy takes her anger out on Katie because of the tendency to see other women as the cause of men going astray. When Johnny steps forward to take the scratch intended for Katie, it is a just assumption of his guilt for leaving her for Katie and for letting Hildy think that he loved her enough to marry her; it seems that he never did. However, Johnny’s tender goodbye to Hildy indicates that he may have believed that he loved her and certainly cared for her deeply.
Katie and Johnny become engaged after a four-month courtship. They marry in Katie’s church on New Year’s Day 1901. Katie’s father, Thomas, never forgave her for marrying, because he was no longer entitled to the income that she had been earning at the factory since the age of thirteen.
Thomas resents Katie for giving Johnny the money to which he had been entitled as her caretaker. However, now that Johnny is the man who is supposed to look after Katie, he will get her wages.